Components of a Formal Garden

A formal garden exudes a sense of elegance and charm. The formal garden is symmetrical on all sides and has perfectly pruned borders that encircle beds or wander in geometric configurations. Flowers are in bloom most of the time and well manicured. Topiary plants are a popular part of a formal garden clipped into geometric shapes or shapes like animals, fish and other objects. A focal point is important in a formal garden and can be a fountain or a cool pool.

Trees, Topiaries, and Flowers

Formal Gardens contain a variety of plants and the following are some of the most common.

  • Some formal gardens include trees that are thin and pointed. Columnar evergreens can be used as a wall or screen and be clipped into a five or six foot hedge. Many Cypress trees present in a columnar shape and add some small cones to the landscape. There are several varieties of apples and other fruits that grow on small thin trees. Trees can be planted in the ground or in large containers in a formal garden.
  • Topiary specimens are grown from evergreen shrubs or other plants trained into different shapes. Shapes can differ and be oval, cone shape, round, rectangular and other geometric shapes. Animal shapes and wreaths are also popular in a formal garden. Plants most often used for topiaries are bay laurel and rosemary although evergreens are often used.
  • Almost any tidy annual can be planted in a formal garden. Begonias and impatience are two that are well suited as they do not grow too high or wide.
  • Roses are popular in a formal garden. Tea roses are so perfect they are the most popular for a formal garden. They can be planted several in a bed planted about one foot apart. They can be all one color or a variety as long as the same is planted on the other side of the garden. The English rose is also suitable for a formal garden. Blooms are large and some can even be grown in a hedge and used instead of boxwood. Do not forget to use a trellis with some climbers over the central fountain or pool. Tea roses do not produce a good scent but English roses will cover the garden in fragrance.
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Borders are essential in a formal garden to define the edges and sections of the beds and are usually made of dense evergreens or flowers that are all the same height.

  • Boxwood is commonly used for borders because it is low growing and very dense. It can be pruned to any shape or size and look beautiful in a formal garden.
  • Other plants suitable for borders are low growing holly, chives, lavender and dianthus.


Formal Gardens often contain focal points. They also contain statues and other ornamentation. Garden paths are common in a formal garden as well as garden benches.

  • Formal gardens benefit from a central focal point such as a fountain or pool. Some do not have water features but have a gazebo, sundial, trellis, bird bath or a gazing ball instead.
  • Statuary is a common feature in formal gardens. Statues and ornaments should be symmetrical if they are not the focal point of the garden.
  • Statues placed on one side of the garden should mirror the other side and all must be in balance.
  • Do not forget a bench or two so that the garden can be enjoyed.
  • Many formal gardens have paths that run through them making it easier to take a walk in the garden. Paths can be made from ground stone, mulch, grass, stepping stones and many other materials. The more formal the material the better. When using stepping stones plant moss or thyme in between the stones.
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A formal garden is a great deal of work but worth the trouble. A formal garden makes a spectacular display and everyone in the neighborhood will want to wander over and sit awhile.

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